Letters from New York [Blood Magic, Book 2]

Until Mills and Keel, the sorcerer-vampire bond was solely the stuff of folklore and legend – a whispered myth with one hell of a body count.

Now Mills has returned to New York City, to human life, but the bond is reawakening.

And someone knows her secret.

All her secrets…

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19. Connections

Chapter 16: Connections

Miraculously, our luck held for the rest of the week. Since Lucia’s mom was going to New Jersey for the day on Sunday, we didn’t even have to be overly sneaky about our one-last-possession-before-the-cure plan. Better still, it gave me a few more days to strut the new and improved Mills around the apartment – and not just to win back some much-needed trust: I’d decided if my father was trying, I was going to try too.

What did I have to lose?

Surprisingly, things had been… okay.

And they were getting better by the day.

Ephraim and I hadn’t had any more deep, confessional conversations, but he began to take an active interest in my life. He’d asked me what spells I was practicing and what living as a human had been like. He also stopped making as a big a deal of me needing to fit in. In exile, a human life is necessary, he’d told me last night over Chinese take-out, before qualifying that with: it can be had in moderation. While I had to live amongst humans and be competent at it, what I did at home behind closed doors was still my own business – even if it was magic.

Something in our awkward, smashed-together family unit had changed, and I wondered if it was something bigger than the threat of the vigilante sorcerors. Could be, I reasoned, but I couldn’t think of what. All I knew was that I wasn’t getting the tired, old log line of be human anymore; now it was work what you are to your advantage, and be smart about it.

I could respect that.

But I still woke up every day thinking I was dreaming.

When Saturday evening came around, I stuffed the smallest of Bruce’s coolers under my bed and spent the rest of the night making repeated, furtive trips to the kitchen to fill it with ice cubes. Sunday morning, right after breakfast, I carefully prepared the concoction for Lucia’s protection spell in an old jar I’d fished out of the recycling and washed up while taking care of the dishes. A couple days after Christmas, Lucia had left a “care package” for me at the concierge’s desk downstairs, and as promised, it held all the necessary materials. If something went wrong with the possession, I’d have no time to measure the ingredients, combine the mixture and chant the chants needed to imbue it with its magical power. I wanted it ready just in case.

There was no way we were walking into this unprepared like last time. I had a plan and a back-up plan, and I’d spent days honing them.

Of course, there were still uncertainties: I thought Bruce might’ve made a stink about my duffel bag, perhaps even insisting on riffling through it, but he said nothing as we climbed into his Jeep. We drove over to Lucia’s place in companionable silence; now that there were fewer secrets, there was less tension.

“Call me when you want to be picked up,” Bruce said as I hopped out in front of Lucia’s apartment.

“Will do,” I promised, and I meant it.

As Bruce drove off down the street, I made my way up the front steps of Lucia's building. Once his Jeep turned the corner, however, I spun around, bounded back down to the sidewalk and knocked on the door of the psychic shop. The store, it turned out, was “public” enough for our purposes. If the general human populace could enter, so could ghosts. Apparently spirits were much more like the vampires of human folklore than the Nosferatu were. Hilarious.

“Hi, Mills!” Lucia said brightly, as she swung open the door and threw her arms around me. Neither Bruce nor Ephraim were much for physical displays of affection: I was unaccustomed to such enthusiastic hugs. “So good to see you.”

“You too,” I said, patting her back. “Are you trying to squeeze my guts out?”

“No, sorry. She unwound her vice-like arms from my torso. “It’s just…”

“I know.” I dropped my duffel bag by the counter and made my way to the centre of the store. Lucia trailed a step or two behind me. “So are you sure about this?" I asked. "There’s a lot of stuff in here that could get broken, if this goes sideways.”

“It won’t,” Lucia assured me. There was a confidence in her voice that had been missing when we’d ascended to the roof before her last possession.

“What makes you so sure?”

“This ghost is different.”

I shot her a disbelieving look.

“Trust me. You’ll see,” she promised.

Of course, I knew better than to trust any of the Nosferatu – living or dead. I reached out and put my hands on her shoulders, as much to steel myself mentally as to ground myself physically. My latest protect-Lucia plan wasn’t exactly an easy thing to pitch. “Lucia,” I said, nervously. I could barely look her in the face, let alone in the eyes. There were some things a person should never have to say to another person and this was one of them – but if I was right, it would greatly improve our odds. “I know you think this is going to be different this time, but I still think we need to take some added precautions. Just in case.”

“Like?”

“This might freak you out, and I’m really sorry about that, but it’s important.”

“That bad?” Lucia said. “Stop babbling and just spit it out already.”

“This supernatural shit isn’t easy sometimes. Sorry.”

“I’m getting that. And you don’t have to keep apologizing.”

I dropped my arms and raised my eyes, forcing myself to meet her gaze head on. Then, before I lost my nerve, I said: “You need to drink my blood.”

“I know,” Lucia said, “as part of the protection spell. You showed it to me on your computer, remember?” That had been the thing that she hadn’t been able to deal with when she’d first read the ritual off my laptop screen. She only started to calm down about it after I’d emailed her some passages from the texts about sorcerer's blood and some of the beneficial things it could be used for. Healing, even. Like I used to use it to heal Keel. But I was about to ask her to do something even harder.

“That’s not what I’m talking about. That comes later, after I’ve spoken to Garstatt. Right now, I just need you to drink my blood, not the stuff for the spell.”

“Like a vampire?” Lucia’s eyes grew wide.

“No. You don’t have to do it like that. You could drink it out of a glass.” I stopped short of saying I’d prefer it that way, but I did. That other kind of blood-drinking already had way too many difficult and contradictory feelings attached to it.

“It’s still blood,” Lucia noted, looking pale. “And now it’s not even going to have that other crap in it so I can pretend it’s not.”

“I know. It’s my blood. Sorcerer blood. That’s the whole point. If my blood is inside you, then I have a magical connection to you for a brief time. And if I’m right, what that means is if something goes wrong, like last time, I have a chance of getting the spirit out of you.”

“And how exactly did you do it last time?” Lucia asked, crossing her arms. She’d been prodding me about what had happened on the roof all week and I’d been nothing but vague. Danger lay in that direction, and I wanted to protect her, especially since I’d already failed her so badly. There was no way to answer that question without copping to that failure.

I paced across room, stopping by one of the windows to pick at a dried ridge of wax that had flowed down the side of one of the candles that sat on its ledge. I felt like I was about to rob Lucia of another piece of her innocence. Guess what?! The Nosferatu know you exist, and they may be inclined to hunt you, kidnap you, who knows what else. Ditto goes for the rest of your people. Have a great life!

“I didn’t,” I said quietly. “Keel did.”

I watched as her initial confusion gave way to an expression that made me feel incredibly uncomfortable.

“He –” she started.

“Yes. And I’m not sure I’m ready to talk about it.”

“Whoa.” Lucia gawped at me.

“Not exactly how I’d put it,” I said dismally.

“That’s what you meant when you said we were more alike than I realized, isn’t it? But why didn’t you just tell me?” Her question hung in the air between us. I was pulling the same garbage on her that Bruce and Ephraim were always pulling on me. And even so, Lucia was still thinking about me, what all of this meant for me; it hadn’t hit her yet what it meant for her. .

“I should’ve, and I will,” I said. “I’ll tell you everything – later. But right now, we need to prepare for this possession.”

“So what you’re saying is that you don’t want to talk about a blood drinker; you want to talk about blood drinking?”

“I’m being serious here.”

“I know, it’s just… you’ve got to understand, this is weird, even for me.”

“Who cares how weird it is if it saves our asses?” I regretted my glibness immediately. Because Lucia had her own connection to the supernatural, it was easy to forget that for all her ghost-talking and ability to be a spirit vessel, she was still a human being.

“Can I catch a disease from doing this?” she asked. I could tell she was stalling. She was fidgeting with the sleeves of her baggy blue sweater, yanking them down over her hands.

“Sorcerers aren’t susceptible to human diseases. You know that; you read the stuff I sent you.”

“But I’m not a sorcerer.”

“Lucia, listen,” I begged. “Our blood is our power. Would our blood be our power if it made the people we exposed it to plague-ridden?”

Lucia closed her eyes and ran both hands through her hair, none too gently.

“Think about it,” I insisted.

“Okay, you have a point,” she allowed.

“You want to help me. Even now. I appreciate that. God, do I ever appreciate that, but let’s do this properly this time, okay?” Maybe it was too much asking her to agree to this on top of the protection spell, but I had to try.

Lucia looked at me, and I gave her what I hoped was a smile of reassurance.

“Just tell me where you keep the glasses, then take a minute to collect yourself,” I said. “You know I wouldn’t ask you to do this if it wasn’t absolutely necessary.”

Lucia frowned and sighed. “Upstairs in the kitchen, far wall, middle cupboard.”

When I returned, Lucia hadn’t moved. Her back was still to me, so I couldn’t gauge how she was feeling about this. I used that to my advantage and drew a nail across my wrist. My blood flowed out in a rich, thick, painless stream. By the time the cup was half full, the wound had already knit itself back up. I figured that would be enough. I wasn’t a sadist.

“Bottoms up,” I joked, hoping to lighten the mood, as I walked over to where Lucia was standing.

She took the glass, hesitantly sniffed at its contents and wrinkled her nose. Then she lowered it to her mouth and made to drink, but before my blood even touched her lips, a fit of violent gagging overcame her. I plucked the cup out of her hand so that it wouldn’t spill.

“I know magic’s gross and hard to swallow,” I said, wondering if I should apologize for the bad, unintentional pun. “But it’s to stop people from using it frivolously. Or at least that’s how Ephraim explained it to me.”

“Well, I can tell you there’s no way I’d want to do this every day,” she said, once the heaving had stopped. She took the glass back, eyeing it like it was poison.

“Do it quick, like a shot,” I advised.

She closed her eyes, as if to pretend she was drinking something else and tilted the glass back. My blood sloshed into her mouth, as if it were the thickest red wine ever. She gagged again almost immediately, coughing a bunch of the red stuff back into the cup. I expected more complaining, but a look of determination bloomed on her face. She reached up, pinched her nose and choked the remainder of it down. When she lowered the glass, she had red line topping her upper lip – a macabre moustache. I tried not to laugh, quickly handing her a Kleenex instead. She looked so desperately unhappy; it wasn’t right to make light of that, no matter how funny it was.

“I’m sorry,” I said. Even though she’d told me to stop apologizing, I just couldn’t help it. This time I wrapped my arms around her. She accepted my hug but didn’t return it. “Can we try something?” I asked tentatively.

“Is it worse than the blood-drinking?” she said, her tone suspicious.

“No,” I promised.

“Okay then.”

I hoped by having Lucia ingest my blood, it would give me access to a couple of the things the bond I had with Keel did, at least until it was digested and out of her system. I focused my attention on her, on my blood within her, on the magic that was me and that was in those cells, and then I imagined it acting as vast, calming ocean on her senses.

“What are you doing?” Lucia said.

“What does it feel like?”

“Something tickling my subconscious.”

“Stop fighting it. It’s just me.” I grabbed her hands. “I know this all got really big and really serious all at once, but –”

“Shut up,” Lucia said. “Just do it.”

I closed my eyes, reached out to my blood, and repeated the process.

“Wow, that’s a thing,” Lucia mumbled a couple of minutes later. “You could make a whole army of human zombies like that.”

“Not really,” I said. “It fails the time-plus-blood-plus-necessary-concentration equation. I’d be bled dry or die of magical exhaustion long before they even marched anywhere. But it is useful against vampires – and hopefully any ghosts that overstay their welcome.”

“Is there anything else?” Lucia slid her hands out of mine. She looked considerably less green than she had when she’d downed my blood.

“No. I think we’re ready now. Just be careful, okay?”

Lucia nodded and walked to the front door of the shop, disappearing out into the street. I stared after her wondering what was going on and whether I should follow. I was heading to the counter to grab my bag, when the bells above the door tinkled. Lucia had returned and she was talking to someone I couldn’t see.

“Okay, I understand,” she said. Then I moment later, “Yes, I’m ready.”

I watched as her whole body snapped to attention, as if something was pushing all her limbs outward from within, like when one slips on a rubber glove. Then her muscles relaxed. She flexed her legs and arms and fingers, and took in the room, before fixing her sights squarely on me. Her eyes were red. Lucia was no longer in the building.

“So young,” she said. Her voice was calm and unnaturally low, and much more controlled than when Keel’s father had been riding along.

“Garstatt?” I asked, cautiously.

“Sorceress,” he replied.

“Thank you for coming.”

He nodded. The movement was smooth.

“Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

“I am here, am I not?”

“This one’s not about me, though, or the bond,” I said. “The last time Lucia was possessed, it was violent, horrible –”

“And you want to know why it’s different now.”

It was my turn to nod.

“A psychic may be used as a vehicle at any time. But it is much less damaging if they are receptive, and I am not boorish,” Garstatt explained. As he became more used to Lucia’s form, he spoke faster and in longer sentences.

“You’ve done this before?” I said, awestruck.

“In my earlier years, yes, when I still clung to the notion that I could rule the living world from the afterlife. Or that I wanted to.”

I pondered that. It seemed so completely un-Nosferatu. “You’re not what I expected,” I told him.

“Nor are you, sorceress.”

I didn’t sense any aggression from him. But I got the impression that he was very, very old, as if the afterlife didn’t stop him from aging, mentally at least.

“Why did you want to talk in private?” I asked.

“Knowledge is power. But knowledge makes those who have it targets. You will need loyal allies in your future; and a psychic is an excellent one to have. But you have to protect her. Humans are terribly fragile creatures.”

I wanted to tell him that he’d barely answered my question and that Lucia might yet surprise him – she was no shrinking violet – but he had brought up another thread that was much more appealing. “What’s in my future?”

“The possibility of great darkness. Or the possibility of something other. Two roads, but only one that you will travel.”

“Way to be cryptic, Yoda,” I said, before quickly adding, “Not to be rude,” even though I was sure he wasn’t going to understand the reference. I doubted there were movie theatres in the afterlife.

“I will tell you what I can, but only you can select your destiny. We –” Garstatt stopped abruptly and stared out the window. I didn’t know if something on the street had caught his eye or if he was gazing into the past, as my father had, not so long ago. He continued, “– have company.”

I followed his eyes, but saw nothing, just the usual row of houses and parked cars. “Are you sure? How do I know you aren’t trying to pull one over on me?”

“There are six sorcerers outside,” he stated, as if he was bored by my blatant distrust. “Four of them are armed.”

The way he said it made me think he wasn’t talking about them being armed with magic. And if he was right, and I chose not to believe him, then we were all dead. I stepped forward and yanked the curtains closed, before dashing around the store to close the rest of them too. I finished my loop at the front door, which I locked and threw the deadbolt for. Then I crossed the room to my bag and snatched my cellphone out of the side pocket. Good thing I had Bruce’s number on speed dial; my hands were shaking so badly I might not have been able to call him otherwise.

Garstatt watched me do all this in silence and when I motioned to him with my index finger over my lips, I hoped he understood that I needed him to stay like that just a little while longer.

“Hello,” Bruce answered.

“We’re in trouble. Is my father there?”

“What kind of –”

“Just get Ephraim,” I shouted, then glanced at the store’s door. No, I was just freaking myself out, sorcerers didn’t have super-powered hearing.

“Mildred?” my father said a moment later.

I was too worried to correct him. “The sorcerers are here,” I said.

“Are you sure?” I heard bustling sounds; Ephraim was rooting through something.

“Yes.”

“How do you know?”

“It’s not important." I hoped that wouldn’t launch an argument. I had no idea how much time we had until the vigilantes outside put whatever they had come here to do into action.  “There are six of them. I’m screwed, aren’t I?”

There was silence from Ephraim and more banging noises from his end of the line. “We’re on our way, but there’s something you need to do. Put the phone on speaker and set it down.”

I did as I was told.

“Now, listen,” Ephraim said. “I’m going tell you how to raise a shield on the building you are in. Just follow my instructions.” There was a pause, then I heard himorder Bruce to get the car. “You are going to need to dampen the edges of the doors and windows with your blood,” he continued.

“But I can’t go near the windows! They have weapons, human weapons.”

“Then make sure you keep your back to the wall when you do it and don’t worry about the tops.”

“Okay,” I said. I was going to get shot or worse before I managed to pull this off. Please hurry, I silently pleaded with Ephraim, even as I dug my fingernails into my palms and began patting my newly blood-smeared hands along the first window frame. We didn’t live that far away: they could be here in fifteen minutes if traffic wasn’t bad.

“What’s happening?” Ephraim asked.

“Nothing,” I said. “I’m just bloodying up the place, like you said.” I hoped Lucia wouldn’t freak out about this when Garstatt gave her body back.

Speaking of Garstatt... I shot another glance in his direction; he was still observing me with interest. How many more sorcery laws was I breaking by doing this in front of him?

“Okay, it’s done,” I shouted at the phone once I’d smeared my blood on the last window frame. “Now what?”

“Now conjure up your magic, focus it on the marks you’ve just made, and repeat after me.”

As soon as Ephraim sounded out the first sentence, I wanted to tell him that he was crazy, that I wasn’t going to do be able to do it. The incantation wasn't in Olde English, like the one for the blood contract had been, it was in Latin and I couldn’t remember the first word my father had said by the time he uttered the last one. “Again, but slower,” I told him, refusing to give up that easily, “Also, give me a second first.”

I imagined myself shoving my fear deep down inside of me and locking it up behind the bone bars of my rib cage. Then, in its place, I pictured my magic rising up like a cresting tsunami. As it did, I felt the blood I’d left on the door and windows as if Lucia’s mom’s psychic shop was merely an extension of my physical body. The structure became a second skin around me. “I’m ready now,” I told Ephraim.

He repeated the first half of the opening line of the spell and this time I had no problem remembering it. The magic focused me, and Ephraim’s words became my own, even though I had no idea what they meant.

I’m not sure how long the whole incantation took; time had little meaning during complex casting. It could have been two minutes or twenty. I was a conduit, nothing more.

“Good,” Ephraim said when I finished. “Now hang up the phone, find a safe place in the building to stand your ground if necessary and wait for us. Don’t do anything foolish.”

I hit “end” on my cell and took several deep breaths, allowing the throb of the magical force to simmer back down inside of me.

“Wait,” Garstatt intoned, and I jumped. I’d completely forgotten he was here with me; he’d been monk-quiet the whole time Ephraim was guiding me through the spell. “You can fortify it more.”

“How?”

“Use the bond.”

“I don’t know how to do that,” I said, mildly embarrassed.

“You don’t have to, if you can repeat after Ephraim –” he sounded my father’s name out carefully, as if the word was foreign to him “– you can repeat after me.”

I eyeballed him. Could be a trick, the voice in my head warned. He could be trying to undo everything you just did. How the hell was I supposed to know?

“Child. Not everyone is an enemy. You’d do well to learn that.”

“Experience suggests otherwise,” I said.

“Well, it’s your life – or, rather, death. Mine is long past.”

I glared at him, but I still didn’t see the slightest hint of anything cunning or sinister. He continued to treat Lucia’s body with the utmost respect.

“Fine!” I said, wondering if I was giving in because I honestly believed him, or just because I had no idea what else to do. I coiled my power back up inside my stomach, then sent it out to the same wooden panels and joints as before. “What do I need to say?”

Garstatt hadn’t gotten four words out, when I interrupted him. “What the hell language is that?”

“Vamphyrric.” 

I'd seen it written in the Nosferatu history books and etched on the sides of their goblets, but I'd never heard it spoken before. “I thought Nosferatu didn’t have magic spells.”

“They don’t, but the bond allows for a kind of hybrid conjuring, like when we enter into a magical agreement, but more refined.”

“What’s that mean?” I said suspiciously.

“It means you can utilize the vampire essence inside of you to strengthen your casting.”

“And that’s what we’re doing?”

“Yes and no.”

“Can’t you ever just say what you mean without dancing around the subject?” This cryptic-old-man bit was getting tiresome, especially when we had a half-dozen armed sorcerers on our doorstep. Ephraim had said get to cover, yet here we were still standing in the middle of the store, perfect targets for a spray of bullets.

“We’re tapping into the bond to seal the building to anyone who doesn’t share your unique cross-species makeup.”

“Trapping me and you in here and everyone else out there,” I finished for him.

“Yes.”

I swallowed hard and took a leap of faith; what else could I do? “Okay, I’m in.”

Garstatt restarted the incantation. As soon as I’d spoken the first phrase, electricity tingled through me. It was the same low-level current I felt whenever Keel touched me, or had felt until I’d learned to tune it out. It wasn’t so unpleasant now. There were other differences too. Sorcerer magic merely focused my concentration; this “hybrid magic,” as Garstatt had called it, focused all of me. Suddenly I knew exactly where the sorcerers were outside. Two were in a tight alleyway across the street, two more were stationed in a car parked directly out front, and the final two – the unarmed ones – were patrolling the block. Around them was the intermingling of nearly a hundred human lifeforces – on the street, in the apartments surrounding us, in the cars driving by. Their blood sang a hundred individual melodies at me, but I didn’t crave it. The magic that powered that strange inner electricity satiated me entirely, and though I was tapping into the vampire cells that had bonded to my own, it didn’t make me feel Nosferatu. But I did feel invincible. I didn’t want to let the magic flare out to fortify the shop, I wanted to hold it all in, soak in it like a hot tub.

And for the first time, I got an inkling of what everyone had hinted at when they said I had power.

Then, suddenly, further out on the periphery I felt Keel, and I stumbled over Garstatt’s words. The magic shimmered and threaten to collapse in on itself and me. Manipulating this hybrid stuff was like trying to hang onto an angry, squirming cat; it refused to be easily controlled.

“Concentrate!” Garstatt yelled, and repeated the vamphyrric line for me. I re-focused and said it correctly this time. I could feel Keel again. He was alive – sleeping – and somehow without Garstatt saying a word about it, I knew I was borrowing some of his lifeforce to manage this. Just like when he’d possessed me on the roof. This was how the bond worked. It fed off of both of us. It was parasitic.

As the final vamphyrric word left my mouth, the magic between me and the disparate parts of the building became taut as pulled rope. Then it broke free of me, coiled outwards into the wood like a tunnelling worm and was gone. There was nothing to push back or re-contain within myself, the magic was simply spent, yet I didn’t feel the least bit tired. That was different too.

“Let’s see if they can get past that,” Garstatt said.

I stepped back and surveyed my handiwork. Like the desert cabin my father had enchanted, it showed no outward physical signs of what had been done to it. Even the smeared blood had been absorbed or had evaporated.

“What now?”

“Now we sit down and have the conversation I came here to have,” Garstatt said. I snuck one last worried glance at the front of the store – I could no longer feel the vigilantes outside, or Keel – then followed him into Lucia’s mom’s office.

[NEXT CHAPTER  COMING YOUR WAY ON MONDAY, AUGUST 5!]

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